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Revisiting the 25, Part I – The West

This morning, as I was working on my NCAA.com column on Michigan and the balanced scoring the Wolverines have enjoyed this season, I couldn’t help but remember the column on my pre-season blog entry challenging the absence of Carl Hagelin from the list.

Well, Hagelin is having a fine season, and is certainly a big part of why Michigan has the best winning percentage in the CCHA, but at the midway point of the season, I’m just not seeing him as a major Hobey contender. However, it did give me an idea: as we wade through the early stages of the 2011 portion of the season, it’s probably about time to check in with the 25 players I identified before the season, and see who’s truly in the mix.

So, we started this in two parts – a group of forwards and a group of defensemen and goalies – and I figure that’s a good way to continue. Except that we’ll split it into East and West, and in case it will do anything to hold off the “East Coast Bias” accusations, I’ll even start with the West. How ’bout that?

Andy Miele, SR, F, Miami - I had wondered before the season if Miami’s depth would again get in the way of a RedHawks forward earning Hobey consideration, but Miele and Carter Camper (more on him in a second) are standing out from the pack. They’re picking up the slack from the graduation of Jarod Palmer and the pro signing of Tommy Wingels, and leading a Miami team that may not be riding high like recent editions of the RedHawks, but should still be in the mix down the stretch. However, while you probably don’t have Camper’s outstanding success without Miele’s – the success of both centermen stops opponents from focusing on just one line – Camper’s the leading scorer in the nation right now, which means a finalist spot is probably the ceiling for Miele.

Carter Camper, SR, F, Miami - Every time I talk about Camper in connection with the Hobey, I’m reminded of how I heard about him during his freshman year. At the time, some of the broadcasting folks who were voting for him in the CSTV Hobey Watch (especially those with less hair than the rest of us) were talking about how great his name sounds on TV. These days, however, it’s clearly more about his game than his name. He’s knocking on the door of two points per game, he’s the captain of the RedHawks (and when you’re selected as the leader by a locker room like Miami’s, I think that says something), and he’s the nation’s leading scorer. I think it’s fairly obvious that Camper is very likely for a spot in the top 10 and the Hobey Hat Trick, and with a good performance down the stretch by Miami as a team, it’s easy to see Camper hoisting the Hobey in April.

Matt Read, SR, F, Bemidji State - Read made noise early last season as a Hobey candidate, but faded down the stretch among the nation’s scoring leaders. Now, he’s not the top scorer on his own team (that’d be sophomore forward Jordan George). The move to the WCHA has not been kind to the Beavers, and barring some sort of unheard-of second half run, I think it’s safe to say that Read is a non-factor in the Hobey race.

Jack Connolly, JR, F, Minnesota Duluth – Connolly enters this weekend’s exhibition against the US Under-18 team as the No. 10 scorer in the nation, and No. 2 in the WCHA behind Colorado College freshman Jaden Schwartz. Schwartz, of course, broke his ankle at the World Junior Championship (and Hobey tends not to like freshmen anyway), so it’s safe to say that Connolly is the premier Hobey candidate among forwards in the WCHA. That makes him a very likely finalist, with the potential for more depending on what the Bulldogs do down the stretch in the WCHA. Unless, of course, the guy is…

Justin Fontaine, SR, F, Minnesota Duluth – Fontaine has three more goals and six fewer assists than his linemate Connolly, which leaves him as No. 2 in the WCHA in total points and No. 3 in points per game. He’s got more goals, which could very easily come into play if and when things get close between the two. Again, another strong contender for a finalist spot, with the potential for growth pending the Bulldogs’ play in the next couple of months.

Garrett Roe, SR, F, St. Cloud - Unfortunately, I don’t get to see teams the way I used to, which is a shame, because you can’t really figure out what happened to Garrett Roe without seeing it in person. What I do know is that Roe is on pace for his worst statistical year as a Husky, on a team that sits an astonishing 11th in the WCHA. Hopefully, he’ll have better things in store as a pro – I’ve liked Roe’s game for a while – but for now, it looks like he’s getting a hearty, “Thanks for playing.”

Zach Redmond, SR, D, Ferris State – Well, let’s start with the good news: Redmond is the Bulldogs’ leading scorer with 13 points (5g, 8a) in 15 games, and the Bulldogs are one of three teams tied for fourth place in the CCHA. Now, here’s the bad news: that leaves him fifth in the nation among defensemen in scoring, with Wisconsin’s Justin Schultz the top scoring blueliner from a “Big Four” conference. If Redmond and the Bulldogs make a run into the NCAA Tournament, I could see Redmond getting a finalist spot. However, I think that’s as far as it goes.

Chay Genoway, SR, D, North Dakota – Genoway isn’t on the point-per-game pace he had set before his 2009-10 season ended in injury, but he is tied for third on the Sioux in scoring, and is sixth in the country among defenseman. He’s also the captain of a North Dakota team that’s as hot as any team in the country right now, and a senior who came back for a fifth season when there would have been pro opportunities. That all works in his favor. The other thing that has to be considered, however, is that Matt Frattin is third in the country in goals per game, and if there’s only one North Dakota player who gets Hobey consideration, it might be him. For now, though, I think Genoway is a strong contender for a finalist spot.

Cody Reichard, JR, G, Miami – Reichard did an outstanding job last season as one half of Miami’s two-headed goaltending monster, but I think the general consensus was that the lack of a single standout scorer in Miami’s balanced and dangerous lineup was a major contributor to Reichard’s CCHA Player of the Year selection and Hobey finalist nod. That’s not an issue this year, partly because Carter Camper and Andy Miele are two of the nation’s top five scorers, and partly because Reichard’s season has been, well, underwhelming. In fact, Reichard is having his worst statistical year as a RedHawk, which, combined with the breakout years by Camper and Mile, renders him a non-factor in the Hobey race. Didn’t exactly see that one coming.

Brad Eidsness, JR, G, North Dakota – Like Reichard, Eidsness has tumbled from the ranks of the top goaltenders in the country, logging an .805 save percentage and a 4.12 goals-against average in five appearances this season. Aaron Dell is the man in net for the Sioux now, so it’s “see you next year…maybe” for Eidsness.

Mike Lee, SO, G, St. Cloud – If you’re looking for a reason why a team that was picked to finish in the top three in the WCHA is sitting in 11th at mid-season, goaltending is a good place to start. Lee has outplayed senior Dan Dunn, but not by much: his .891 save percentage and 3.24 GAA aren’t much of an improvement on Dunn’s .883 and 3.36.  Call it a sophomore slump? Sure. That may mean we haven’t heard the last of Mr. Lee, but in term’s of this year’s Hobey race, we certainly have.

So, out of 11 players in the CCHA and WCHA I identified before the season as candidates, we have six potential Hobey finalists to keep an eye on in the second half.

Tomorrow: The East.

An Ivy-Covered Post

I am, of course, well aware that I haven’t had much to say lately about the Hobey Baker race. I find that there isn’t much to say in October and November. Now, however, it’s December, and your humble Hobey pundit has deemed it time to jump back in, so I’ll share a few thoughts while I flip back and forth between the Big Chill at the Big House on the Big Ten Network and BU and RPI on the NHL Network.

Among the players distinguishing themselves most in the race for the Hobey, there aren’t too many surprises: Carter Camper has taken his scoring to another level with Miami, and averaging nearly two points per game, he has to be considered one of the front-runners for the Hobey, especially with the RedHawks riding high in the CCHA standings. BC’s Cam Atkinson is the national leader in goals with 16, and will also likely be in the mix for the award as the season goes along. I do have some reservations about how Atkinson will be received by Hobey voters, given the fact that Pat Eaves, Tony Voce, Brian Gionta, Nathan Gerbe, Chris Collins, etc. have not won the award, but we’ll get into that more later.

For now, the subject commanding my attention is ECAC Hockey, and more specifically, the Ivy League.

With Yale currently standing atop the national polls, there has been a certain amount of hand-wringing as concerns ECAC Hockey and the Bulldogs’ opponents. It had a familiar sound, as I’ve been hearing similar things about the conference for years whenever Cornell is enjoying a high spot in the polls.

Of course, commenting on polls and who’s overrated or underrated is generally not my department, and it is worth asking how Yale would perform against a WCHA or Hockey East schedule. That said, however, Yale also features four of the top ten scorers in the country – that’d be Broc Little, Andrew Miller, Denny Kearney and Brian O’Neill – and it’s highly likely that at least one member of that quartet will be a finalist for the Hobey when all is said and done. When that happens, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll hear the players’ accomplishments downplayed because of their conference the way their team’s performance has so far.

It is worth noting that ECAC Hockey hasn’t produced a Hobey winner since Lane MacDonald in 1989, and the conference’s last two contributions to the Hobey Hat Trick were a pair of Cornell goaltenders, David LeNeveu in 2003 and David McKee in 2005. To find a skater from the conference who made the top three, you’d have to go back to another Yale forward, Chris Higgins in 2002.

Personally, I don’t see any of these Bulldogs changing that this year.

Normally, I’m one of the first to stick up for players and teams in ECAC Hockey when their legitimacy is challenged, and I maintain that Yale has the talent to beat any team in the country, and will be in the mix for a spot in the Frozen Four this spring. However, there are too many things working against the Bulldogs’ high-scoring forwards to make a serious run at the Hobey.

For starters, there’s the Bulldogs’ schedule. I’m not going to run down ECAC Hockey, but adding two non-conference games against conference opponents (the Ivy Shootout) isn’t going to impress anyone. I do understand the merits of opening the season against opponents who are also playing their first games, but at the same time, it’d be helpful to the conference’s profile to see a high-end team like Yale play against top teams from other conferences as much as is feasible. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. With the two Ivy shootout games, three games with Atlantic Hockey opponents Air Force, Holy Cross and Sacred Heart, and a date with struggling Vermont, Yale’s stiffest non-conference test was a Colorado College team that didn’t even bother to play its No. 1 goaltender (although only Minnesota has scored more against the Tigers this year than Yale did). That is going to be an issue when the committee gets to talking.

Then, there’s the issue that I’ve touched on before: Yale’s balance. If there were a Yale player with the numbers of, say, Peter Sejna in his Hobey Year, the schedule issues wouldn’t stop that player from making it to the Hobey Hat Trick. As it is, though, Yale has four big-time scorers, which makes it hard to single any one of them out as a Hobey candidate. Miami, as we’ve discussed had that “problem” last year – of course, most coaches would love to have that kind of “problem” – and the result was Cody Reichard being the team’s Hobey finalist. I don’t think that’d happen with Yale, since the level of the scoring is higher, but I think the same issue comes back into play when the time comes to narrow the Hobey finalists to the Hobey Hat trick.

Anyone who thinks that Yale isn’t going to be a force to be reckoned with in March is kidding himself (especially if they get consistent goaltending), but I don’t see Yale making a real impact in the Hobey race. At least one of the four big scorers will get a finalist nod (at this point, I’m thinking Little), but unless someone’s numbers surge as the season goes along, I think that’s as far as it gets.

Of course, any Bulldogs who do get to that point probably won’t be the only ECAC Hockey representatives. 2010 Hobey finalist Chase Polacek of RPI is still among the nation’s top 20 scorers – and as I write this, is having a very nice game against Boston University – and as a Hobey finalist who returned for his senior year, will likely be commended for his commitment. However, there is also a pair of players from other Ivy League schools who could give Little some company.

For starters, there’s Jack Maclellan of Brown, who is currently second in the nation in points per game, with 20 points (9g, 11a) in 11 games. That includes three assists in the tie with New Hampshire and a goal in the tie with Boston University, with only Cornell having been able to keep Maclellan off the score sheet. Maclellan is definitely a surprise, currently scoring nearly twice as much per game as he did as a sophomore, but with Brown still rebuilding under Brendan Whittet, there’s probably a limit to how much consideration he’ll get. Still, Maclellan will face two more major conference foes, with games against BU and either Notre Dame or Minnesota State at the Shillelagh Tournament to start 2011.

At the other end of the ice, there’s Dartmouth goaltender James Mello, who is second in the nation in goals-against average and tops in save percentage. It’ll be interesting to see if he can keep it up, since he didn’t play in Dartmouth’s 7-3 loss to Yale (that was Jody O’Neill in net for the Big Green that night), or the 4-1 loss to Rensselaer. If Dartmouth and Mello are still looking good in late January (after they’ve played Yale, UNH and RPI), Dartmouth could be on its way to having only its second Hobey finalist ever (David Jones was first in 2007). Those games (along with a possible date with Boston College at the Ledyard National Bank Tournament) will be a prime indicator as to whether Mello is a contender or a pretender.

Back again soon with more Hobey analysis.

Dog days have arrived

I was very nearly at Saturday night’s Yale-Dartmouth game at Ingalls Rink in New Haven. As a Dartmouth alum, I’m glad I wasn’t, but as a follower of the Hobey Baker race, I’m sorry that I missed it.

Yes, after starting the season on the sidelines because of Ivy League regulations, the Bulldogs joined the college hockey party this weekend by scoring a grand total of 14 goals in a pair of 7-3 wins over Brown and Dartmouth. In case you’re wondering, that’s more than Colgate has scored in four games, as many as Quinnipiac has scored in six, and more than either Northeastern or St. Lawrence has scored in seven games this season. All told, Yale has at least as many goals in two games this season as 11 other teams have in twice as many contests or more.

Is it any surprise that I expect Yale to figure prominently in the Hobey race for the first time since Christopher Higgins was a finalist in 2002?

When Keith Allain took the job in New Haven, he promised to open up the offense, and that’s exactly what he’s done, with magnificent results for a once-moribund program. For all that some observers and fans might want to bash the Bulldogs because they play in ECAC Hockey, the fact remains that last year’s Yale team beat a North Dakota team that is regularly among the nation’s elite, then went on to score more goals in their loss to Boston College than Miami and Wisconsin did combined in their two Frozen Four games against the Eagles. It’s a new season, but so far, Yale has shown much of the same goal-scoring prowess.

So far, seniors Denny Kearney and Broc Little are first and second in the nation in points per game, after racking up eight and six points in two games this past weekend, respectively, both split evenly between goals and assists. Brian O’Neill is fourth with two goals and three assists in the two wins. It’s hard to read too much from one weekend, but given that O’Neill, Little and Kearney finished last season with 45, 41 and 37 points, respectively, in 34 games, it seems safe to say that these numbers are more a hot start than a momentary outburst.

Of course, Yale has a similar challenge in producing a Hobey candidate to the one that Miami faces: there are multiple choices, and it’s uncertain whether that might weaken one or all of their potential finalists. Of course, that never seemed to hurt 2005 winner Marty Sertich or last year’s winner, Blake Geoffrion – both players had teammates who were Hobey finalists – but last season, Miami’s offensive balance left Cody Reichard – himself a platoon goaltender with Connor Knapp – as the RedHawks’ lone representative among the Top Ten.

Of course, it’s highly unlikely that a Yale goaltender will steal the forwards’ Hobey thunder – there are probably times when Keith Allain wishes he could get back between the pipes himself – but there’s still the question of whether one of Yale’s offensive stars can outshine the others, and that’s a question that will only be answered in the weeks and months to come. For now, the challenge is keeping annoying one-hit wonders out of your head, because the dogs have been let out.

Miami’s Carter Camper a Hobey candidate fit for a (Larry) King

Last Week, I had the good fortune to get a call from my good friends at Pure Hockey on Campus — a fine program you can hear either as a podcast or on NHL Home Ice on Sirius XM — and in the course of a very enjoyable conversation, Bernie Corbett and Paul McNamara asked what I’d been up to in the offseason.

As it turns out, it may well be that the most important thing I did — at least, as concerns my position as your humble Hobey pundit — was read Esquire magazine.

I’ve been getting Esquire for the last few years, and one of my favorite features is the “What I’ve Learned” interview. Part of it is that the interview takes up just one page, so I can at least skim it during the elevator ride from the lobby to my apartment. more importantly, though, no matter who’s being interviewed, I always see something interesting.

Case in point: September’s interview with Larry King.

I’m not much of a King fan — come on, there’s usually a hockey game on during his show! — but I’ve long appreciated him as an old-school sports fan, the kind who grew up with the Brooklyn Dodgers and followed them all the way out to Los Angeles. Sure enough, sports came up during the Esquire interview, and King let loose with these gems:

“Great athletes never have lousy names. If your name is Frederico Trepalano, you are not going to be a great ballplayer.”

“Michael Jordan is a great name. Easy to remember. Seven letters and six letters. Usually, if they combine to thirteen they’re good names.”

Well, we haven’t had a thirteen-letter Hobey winner since 2004 — Junior Lessard — but there may be a little something to this name business. In any event, the early season scoring certainly has me thinking that Mr. King and my USCHO colleague Dave Starman have more in common than their bald spots.

You see, it was four years ago, when I was getting Hobey Watch ballots from Dave for the CSTV Hobey Baker Watch, that I first started hearing from him about Miami’s Carter Camper. At the time, the native of Rocky River, Ohio (home to former RedHawk and Hobey Baker Finalist Nathan Davis) was in the midst of a freshman season that would see him finish with 41 poinrs, but hadn’t gotten himself into the Hobey mix just yet. Dave had simply taken a shine to the name and wanted more excuses to say it.

Now, though, on the heels of three 40-point seasons, Camper is a bona fide Hobey candidate, and he’s showing it early on this season.

In six games this season, Camper has seven goals and 10 assists for the No. 1 RedHawks, leading the nation in points per game by a wide margin. Naturally, if he keeps up, he’s going to be in the Hobey mix. Still, there’s no guarantee that he will.

After all, the RedHawks are an award voter’s nightmare in the sense that it’s often hard to pick one player who stands out from the rest because the team’s balance is so good. So far, that’s not the case by a wide margin. However, as Camper continues his remarkable season, it’ll be worth following to see whether he drops off as players like Andy Miele, Pat Cannone and Alden Hirschfeld pick up their own scoring (not that they’ve been slouches so far) or whetehr there will be that one superlative Miami player this season.

Could Camper win the Hobey? Sure. He’s a four-year player, he plays for a great program, and he’s clearly learned well from Rico Blasi and his coaching staff. It remains to be seen how that’ll translate when it’s all said and done.

In the meantime, he does have a great name.

2010-11 Hobey Baker Watch: Preview, Part II

OK, so it took me a while to get the second part of this done, but the season starts in earnest this weekend, so its time for me to finish this thing off in time for the start of the season.

Last time, we started our look at 25 potential Hobey Baker candidates with 14 forwards from the five conferences, and now its time to look at the defensemen and goalies. All but one of these players were all-conference honorees last season, which is a solid, if imperfect, indicator of success in the season ahead.

DEFENSEMEN

Zach Redmond, Sr., D, Ferris State – A second-team all-CCHA performer last season and a first-team preseason selection this year, Redmond doesnt have eye-popping numbers he was 24th in defenseman scoring last season but he led FSUs defensemen in plus-minus and was fourth on the team in that category. Hes not necessarily the kind of defenseman who wins the award, but he is the sort of guy whom coaches notice and can come as a surprise when the Hobey finalists are announced. Drew Bagnall, anyone?

Evan Stephens, Sr., Dartmouth Stephens was a third-team All-ECAC Hockey selection last season on a Dartmouth team that finished near the bottom of the standings. The Big Green did come on strong in the second half and return the majority of their key performers this season. As with Redmond, the numbers arent outstanding, but Stephens is another candidate to grab a finalist spot if the breaks go his way.

Taylor Fedun, Sr., Princeton Feduns numbers didnt even rate among the top 50 scoring defensemen, but he was picked for the All-ECAC Hockey Second Team over Stephens. His +7 led a Princeton team that posted a sub-.500 record this year, and isnt predicted to do much better this season. The polls have been wrong before, though, and if Guy Gadowskys team comes back strong, Fedun could find himself contending for a below-the-radar finalist spot.

Jeff Dimmen, Sr., Maine Ah, heres a guy with some numbers! Dimmen was a second team All-Star in Hockey East last season, and with 12 goals among his 30 points, he seems to have the right kind of game for a defenseman whos going to win the Hobey. Of course, thats the kind of thinking that had me envisioning Brendan Smith as the front-runner for the Hobey last season, and we saw how that worked out. Still, Dimmen is worth keeping an eye on this season on a Maine team that should continue to improve.

Blake Kessel, Jr., New Hampshire A first team Hockey East All-Star, Kessel was second only to Brendan Smith in scoring among defensemen last season, averaging a point per game on 10 goals and 28 assists. The nations top returning scorer from the blueline is a no-brainer for consideration, and barring catastrophe, Id expect him to have an outstanding season for the Wildcats, delaying the day when Kessel becomes a dirty word throughout New England (although he could easily have some folks in Boston cursing anyway).

Chay Genoway, Sr., North Dakota Genoway was named to the All-WCHA third team despite playing a grand total of nine games due to a concussion sustained at the hands of St. Clouds Aaron Marvin, but was granted a medical redshirt to complete his college career at North Dakota. In those nine games, he had four goals and six assists, and was generating his share of Hobey talk. Given a full, healthy season on a North Dakota team that always seems to get hot at the right time of year, he should be able to contend for the award again.

GOALTENDERS

Cody Reichard, Jr., Miami Some interpreted Reichards selection as a Hobey finalist last year as a team honor for a RedHawks squad that was so balanced and so successful it was hard to identify a Hobey candidate in the bunch. That said, Reichard did finish the season as the national leader in goals-against average, and ninth in save percentage behind his teammate, Connor Knapp. The reality is that either goalie could post the superior statistics if the Miami platoon remains intact, so keep an eye on both Reichard and Connor.

Allen York, Jr., Rensselaer York was a second team All-ECAC Hockey selection last season after posting a .910 save percentage and 2.54 GAA for the resurgent Engineers. As I mentioned when looking at the forwards, it remains to be seen how resurgent Seth Apperts team is without Jerry DAmigo and Brandon Pirri although poll voters seem to like them to stay steady so a wait and see approach is right here.

Keith Kincaid, So., Union The All-ECAC Hockey third team and All-Rookie team goalie last season, Kincaid backstopped a Dutchmen team that came as close as it ever has to an NCAA tournament berth. If they get it this season and theyre predicted to be right back in the mix in ECAC Hockey Kincaid could be rewarded with a Hobey finalist spot if the numbers are there. Of course, there is also Corey Milan to consider, so well have to see how Unions goaltending situation plays out.

Brad Eidsness, Jr., North Dakota Eidsness was an All-WCHA second team pick last season after finishing eighth nationally in goals-against average and 23rd in save percentage. The return of Chay Genoway to the UND blueline corps should be helpful, and while its always tricky to pick goalies, Eidsness is one worth looking at.

Mike Lee, So., St. Cloud Dan Dunn is the senior, and was an all-WCHA third team pick last season, but Lee has already done the impossible once in his SCSU career he backstopped the Huskies to an NCAA tournament win (ba-dum-dum) so if I were picking a St. Cloud goalie to succeed where every college netminder since Ryan Miller has failed, Id go with Lee, who also has that lovely World Juniors performance on his rsum. He had his growing pains as a freshman, but he should be primed for a breakout sophomore season, one that could earn him Hobey consideration.

So, now we have our group of 25. How many of these will earn finalist spots? Who will flop? Who will come out of nowhere? Only one way to find out: drop the puck.

2010-11 Hobey Baker Watch: Preview, Part I

Wow, is it the eve of college hockey season already?

Apparently, yes, thanks to the crazy early series between Michigan and Mercyhurst. Not sure what’s up with that, but if I want to preview the Hobey Baker race, apparently, I’d best get to it.

Generally, what I’ve done in the past is try to “cast” the upcoming season’s finalists based on who the finalists were in the previous season, but that doesn’t work too well for me. In two seasons, I think I correctly named one Hobey finalist. Granted, it was 2009 Hobey winner Matt Gilroy, but still, there’s a better way.

So, instead of playing casting agent, I’ve gone over last season’s all-conference teams, combined that information with my own observations, and come out with a list of 25 names to start from for this season. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be better than what I’ve been doing. We’ll start with forwards for now, then add the goalies and defensemen in Part Two.

Jacques Lamoureux, Sr, Air Force – Lamoureux was a Hobey Finalist in 2009, but found himself on the outside looking in last year after his numbers dropped off, not to mention increased competition in Atlantic Hockey with the emergence of Canisius forward Cory Conacher (more on him below). I think that Lamoureux is well worth watching, as he could certainly adjust to the attention he attracted last year. He’ll still be a focus of opposing teams’ game planning, but he may well make the necessary improvements to reassert himself. If that happens, he certainly has the intangibles to complement his on-ice performance and make him a very strong candidate for the top 10 or even the Hobey Hat Trick.

Cory Conacher, Sr, Canisius – Conacher was second in the nation in points per game last season, with 20 goals and 33 assists in 35 games. That performance was good enough for Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year, but that didn’t get him a Hobey finalist spot, probably because there was room for debate about whether Conacher, Lamoureux, or RIT’s Dan Ringwald was the conference’s best candidate for the award. A lack of team success probably didn’t help, either, so Canisius will need to make a strong run at the Atlantic Hockey title for Conacher to get consideration for a finalist spot.

Andy Miele, Sr, Miami - Miele was a second-team All-CCHA Pick last season, and is picked as a preseason first-team selection this year. Miami’s depth tends to be a strength, and it’s hard to say which RedHawks forward will be the leader in terms of conference and national honors.

Carter Camper, Sr, Miami – Camper is a preseason second-team All-CCHA selection, but had as many points as Miele last season. Camper is worth keeping an eye on. So, for that matter, is Pat Cannone. Miami’s a deep team, and I think it’ll be a bigger surprise if the RedHawks DON’T produce a Hobey finalist or two this season. Whether it’s Camper, Miele, Cannone, or one of the goalies (see below) remains to be seen.

Chase Polacek, Sr, Rensselaer - Polacek was the ECAC Hockey Player of the Year last season, and luckily for the Engineers, the nation’s sixth leading scorer turned down any opportunity to turn pro. Unfortunately for the Engineers, that made him the exception rather than the rule among RPI’s top stars. It’ll be interesting to see how the absence of early signees Jerry D’Amigo and Brandon Pirri affect Polacek. When a team loses major weapons, the ones who are left will command more attention, so RPI will need to make up for the lost productivity relatively quickly. Still, when you scored 50 points a year ago and you stay in school, you get consideration for the Hobey coming into the season.

Broc Little, Sr, Yale - Like Miami, Yale’s high-flying offense figures to produce multiple high scorers, and as a 27-goal scorer a year ago, Little is likely to be one of them. Teammate Brian O’Neill is also worth a look – he tied for seventh in the nation in points per game last season – but with 16 goals and 29 assists, he’s seen primarily as the setup man, and as we all know, Hobey Likes Goals. Keep your eye on Little first, but don’t be surprised to see a number of Yale forwards earn consideration.

Cam Atkinson, Jr, Boston College – Atkinson was a second team Hockey East All-Star last season, and flew just below the Hobey radar, possibly due in part to his sophomore status. However, Atkinson’s performance during the NCAA Tournament put the nation on notice. With big things expected from BC, the time is right for Atkinson to step up to the next level. He finished last season as the nation’s leading goal-scorer after six goals in the tournament, which has to put him as an early favorite for the Hobey.

Brian Gibbons, Sr, Boston College – Gibbons was named to the Hockey East First Team over Atkinson last season, and is worth keeping an eye on, but with 16 goals and 34 assists last year, he’s the kind of player who’s valued more by the coaches and media in his conference than by your average Hobey voting panel. The other thing to consider here – and this is an issue facing Atkinson as well – is that while many BC forwards have earned Hobey finalist honors during Jerry York’s tenure at the Heights, defenseman Mike Mottau remains the only Eagle to win the award under York. Much as Cornell’s system is known for producing great numbers for goalies, York’s Eagles are known for turning out small forwards who rack up the points. The question is this: Will it take unheard-of production for Atkinson or Gibbons to succeed where Nathan Gerbe, Brian Gionta, Chris Collins, and many others have failed? Or will it just take the right breaks in the Hobey race itself?

Gustav Nyquist, Jr, Maine – The nation’s leading scorer a year ago is back for another run in Orono, after leading the Black Bears to within a goal of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2007 Frozen Four. Nyquist picked up the majority of his 61 points on assists, but there’s a difference between being the nation’s top scorer and one of the top 10 or 15. If Nyquist continues to develop, he should definitely emerge as a Hobey contender.

Stephane Da Costa, So, Merrimack - The bad news for Da Costa is that he’d need to lead the Warriors into the NCAA tournament to have a shot at the Hobey, and given that Merrimack is picked seventh in Hockey East, that’s not looking terribly likely. That said, the good news is that last year’s National Rookie of the Year was the nation’s No. 7 scorer as a freshman, playing in the conference that’s produced the last three NCAA champions. That bodes well for continued individual success, and the Frenchman could easily contend for Hobey finalist recognition should his career continue on its current trajectory.

Matt Read, Sr, Bemidji State - Read was the subject of Hobey talk early on in the season a year ago, when he scored 21 points in 13 games in october and Novemeber. However, Read’s star faded on the national scene as the season went along, although he was an easy pick as the CHA’s final Player of the Year. Now, he’s a senior, and he’ll captain the Beavers on their maiden voyage in the conference that Just Got Tougher. If he produces in the WCHA as well as he did against CHA opposition, he’ll have a great case for Hobey finalist consideration.

Jack Connolly, Jr, Minnesota-Duluth - One of two returning All-WCHA picks for the Bulldogs, Connolly is the top returning scorer in the conference. The Bulldogs were picked second in the WCHA by the media and third by the coaches, which indicates that Connolly should have plenty of opportunity to impress this season.

Justin Fontaine, Sr, Minnesota-Duluth – Fontaine didn’t tally quite as many points as his running buddy Connolly – he had three fewer points in one less game – but he scored more goals, and he’s a senior. Those are both points in his favor. Of course, time will tell which Bulldog, if any, will emerge as a strong candidate for the Hobey.

Garrett Roe, Sr, St. Cloud State - I’ve had an eye on Roe since I saw him play against Alaska-Anchorage his freshman year at the National Hockey Center, and he’s been one of the top 25 scorers in the nation all three years at St. Cloud. Now, he’s a senior, and while he won’t have the luxury of playing with Ryan Lasch anymore, this could be his moment in the Hobey spotlight, as the top returning player on a team picked to finish second in the WCHA by the conference’s coaches and third by the media.

So, those are the forwards. Coming tomorrow: the goalies and defensemen.

That's My Story and I'm Sticking To It

Oh, come on. You know how I’m calling this one.

If I didn’t pick Bobby Butler or Gustav Nyquist to make it to the Hobey Hat Trick, do you really think I’m going to pick either of them to win the award tonight?

Yeah, I know, predictable.

When I was over at the Detroit Red Wings game Wednesday night working on an NCAA.com piece on Patrick Eaves and his connection to both schools, I had a chance to talk informally with former Maine goalie Jimmy Howard. Howard was very interested in Nyquist’s candidacy, and asked if the Black Bears’ not making the tournament was a factor in why Nyquist isn’t favored to win tonight.

I said no, since, after all, players have won without making the tournament, most recently Matt Carle in 2006. However, Carle’s performance that year was absolutely extraordinary for a defenseman, and of course, the fact that he had been part of two NCAA Championship teams already didn’t hurt either. Nyquist, meanwhile, is an extremely gifted setup man, which is a role that has traditionally been overlooked by Hobey voters unless the totals are insanely high. Furthermore, in the running against a pair of seniors and big goal scorers, it’s tough to see him winning.

That leaves Geoffrion and Butler, and Geoffrion has two key advantages (neither of which, for the record, is his famous last name).

1. He came back for his senior year when he clearly didn’t have to. Butler would have found a customer for his services had he decided to test the free agent waters after last season, but Geoffrion, as a second-round draft pick and better-known commodity in terms of transition to the pro level, was in a much different situtation.

2. His team is here. Team success isn’t a prerequisite for the Hobey, but it does help, and getting to the Frozen Four is as much success as you can have for the final voting. Geoffrion was a key figure in making it happen with his big weekend at the West Regional, where Butler disappeared for the most part in UNH’s loss to RIT in Albany.

Of course, there are no losers when it comes to the Hobey Hat Trick, and all three players are a credit to college hockey. It should be a great ceremony tonight.

Boy, Is My Face Red

I was…I was…I was not exactly right.

After a very strong 9 of 10 performance picking the Hobey Baker finalists, I went down in flames picking the Hobey Hat Trick. Wisconsin’s Blake Geoffrion was my one correct pick, as New Hampshire forward Bobby Butler and Maine forward Gustav Nyquist rounded out the group of three finalists, not my choices of Denver’s Marc Cheverie and Geoffrion’s Wisconsin teammate, Brendan Smith.

Wow…how did I get this wrong?

For starters, I had Smith, not Geoffrion, pegged as Wisconsin’s main Hobey candidate for a long time. I was taken in back in mid-season, when Geoffrion was among the nation’s top 10 scorers as a defenseman, and I continued to stick with him even as the scoring numbers came back down to Earth. I did start to sense that he wasn’t about to win it this past weekend, but I did think he would make the Hat Trick.

As for Cheverie, I really didn’t think he played badly in Denver’s loss to RIT, and his importance to Denver’s McNaughton Cup-winning season is unquestioned. Of course, Denver’s postseason was uninspiring, to say the least, and that probably made a difference, the losses at the WCHA Final Five in particular.

Now, I thought Nyquist would still be on the radar for the Hat Trick despite being a spectator this weekend, but I thought that the heroics of Butler against Cornell and Geoffrion against Vermont and St. Cloud would be the end for him. Those performances did wind up having an impact, but not in the way that I thought. Finishing the season as the nation’s leading scorer doesn’t always mean a great deal – just ask Bryan Leitch or Ryan Potulny – but Nyquist was clearly the driving force behind a Maine team that was an overtime goal away from a Hockey East title and a return to the NCAA tournament after a couple of lean years.

Butler, meanwhile, finished the season as the nation’s leading goal-scorer, and it’s as I have been known to say: Hobey likes goals. The fact that he’s already collected Hockey East Player of the Year honors and the Walter Brown Award speaks well to how respected he is in New England, and in retrospect, it was probably unwise on my part to think that a scoreless night in the loss to RIT would be enough to knock him out of the competition. I told some UNH fans on the morning of the East Regional final that I thought Butler had played his way into the Hat Trick, and I really should have stuck with it.

But no use crying over spilt milk now. The question now is, which player got the most votes? After all, the voting’s done, and we know that these three are the top three vote-getters. My feeling is that it’ll be Geoffrion on top. He’s the one who’s still playing, and he’s every bit as much a goal-scorer as Butler. I also have a feeling that with two Hockey East players in the top three, they may have split regional votes with one another, while Geoffrion seems to have gotten the lion’s share of the votes in the west. Of course, that assumes he came in first. If he didn’t , then it means that the four WCHA players took votes from one another, and one of the Hockey East boys, probably Butler wins it.

But that’s not what I think happens. I think Geoffrion wins, and we’ll find out a week from Friday.

We Know Our Four, But What About Three?

Wow.

For a weekend that saw three of the four top seeds make it to the Frozen Four, this certainly feels like a pretty wild regional weekend that we just had. There were wild offensive shootouts, St. Cloud’s first NCAA tournament victory, and, of course, the small matter of an Atlantic Hockey program that’s only been in Division I for five seasons advancing to its first Frozen Four.

Of course, none of that really affects the Hobey Watch…or does it?

To be honest, I’m really not sure what happened this weekend in terms of the Hobey Baker race…or at least, I’m still without too good a grip on who will be part of the Hobey Hat Trick when it’s announced on Wednesday. What I do know comes under the general heading of “stock rising” and “stock falling.” I suppose it makes the most sense to start with that before I make the call again for the Hobey Hat Trick.

    STOCK RISING

Blake Geoffrion, Wisconsin - A game-winning goal against Vermont on Friday and an early goal to help get the Badgers rolling against St. Cloud on Saturday is an excellent “closing statement” for the Badger forward. He now has as many goals as anyone in the country not named “Bobby Butler,” and unlike Butler, he’s going to the Frozen Four.

Bobby Butler, New Hampshire – Butler and his wildcats fell short of the Frozen Four, but Butler had two goals in the win over Cornell and looked dangerous in UNH’s loss to RIT. Running up against a hot goalie in Jared DiMichiel doesn’t undo a Hobey candidacy, especially not when Butler is a senior and the national goal-scoring leader.

    STOCK HOLDING

Brendan Smith, Wisconsin - Smith had a solid weekend in the Badgers’ victories at the West regional, but wasn’t spectacular. I think the thing I realized about Smith this weekend is that while he was looking like Matt Carle circa 2006 earlier in the season, he’s not there right now, and doesn’t necessarily have the numbers to win the Hobey. I think he could easily be in the Hat Trick, but there’s a bit of doubt creeping in as to whether he walks away with the whole thing.

Mark Olver, Northern Michigan - By many accounts, Olver was the best player on the ice in the Wildcats’ first-round loss to St. Cloud State, but the reality is that he needed serious tournament heroics to vault into the upper echelon of Hobey contenders. That didn’t happen. Olver didn’t lose anything this weekend – he’s had a fantastic season and was fully deserving of his honors from the CCHA and the coaches who made him a finalist – but he didn’t win anything, either.

Rhett Rakhshani, Denver - Rakhshani was there in the clutch for Denver all season long, but couldn’t get the Pioneers even with RIT in their stunning first-round loss to the Tigers. Like Geoffrion, Rakhshani was his team’s secondary Hobey candidate (behind Marc Cheverie), and like Olver, needed a big weekend to have a shot at the hat trick. He didn’t get it, so he’s done.

Cody Reichard, Miami - Had it been Reichard in net for Miami’s double-overtime win over Michigan on Sunday night, a spot in the hat trick could easily have been his. However, the fact that Miami stuck to its goaltending rotation emphasizes why Reichard is a tough sell as a Hobey contender to begin with. A goalie who’s played a bit more than half of his team’s games doesn’t really work for the Hobey, although someone who accepts his role so readily and displays commitment to the team over thirst for individual glory the way Reichard has is certainly living up to the principles that Hobey Baker himself valued.

    STOCK FALLING

Ben Scrivens, Cornell – They weren’t all his fault, but letting in five goals against New Hampshire on Friday will get the Big Red netminder a big ol’ “Thanks For Playing” from Hobey. Cornell goaltenders get so little respect as it is that even a solid performance this weekend might not have been enough without a regional tittle. As it is, Scrivens’ candidacy went down in flames.

Marc Cheverie, Denver – I don’t know how much Cheverie’s stock fell by, but the RIT loss didn’t help him any. He certainly didn’t mess up his chances as badly as did his fellow netminder, Scrivens, since his overall goaltending numbers were solid. I still think Cheverie could have a shot at the Hat Trick – think Brad Thiessen last year – but any thought of his becoming the first goalie since Ryan Miller to win the Hobey is officially gone.

So, now that we know who’s up and down, how does that affect the Hobey Hat Trick? Well, with there being three spots, I see five players who could potentially fill those spots: the two Wisconsin entries, Geoffrion and Smith, Cheverie, and the two Hockey East contenders, Butler and Maine’s Gustav Nyquist, since the Hat Trick has included a non-tournament player as recently as 2006.

I feel like Smith is solidly in. Assists on the tying and winning goals against Vermont as part of a solid weekend performance may not set the world on fire, but he’s been one of the nation’s best players all season long. I’m not as sure of him as a winner as I was before, but he’s in the Hat Trick.

I think Nyquist is out. I think that Butler probably outclasses him in the eyes of the voters as the Walter Brown Award winner and Hockey East Player of the Year, especially when you add they key goals in UNH’s win over Cornell.

So basically, that leaves three players for two spots – Butler, Geoffrion and Cheverie – and I’m thinking that it’s Geoffrion and Cheverie.

Cheverie faded down the stretch, obviously, especially in terms of postseason wins, but I think that like Brad Thiessen last year, his regular season performance will be enough, especially since he didn’t disgrace himself against RIT (two goals allowed on 24 shots, with neither goal one you could fault him on).

Geoffrion was one of the tournament’s top performers this weekend, and was already getting a lot of buzz from people who think that he, not Smith, is the better Badger candidate. They may or may not be right, but I think he gets in and we spend another week and a half debating which one is better.

That leaves Butler on the outside looking in, which is hard to figure, as I’ve long been of the opinion that the entire Hobey Hat Trick is unlikely to come from one region of the country. But there we were last year in Washington, with a pair of BU Terriers and a Northeastern Husky among the top three vote-getters for college hockey’s top individual honor. If it happened in Hockey East, it can certainly happen in the WCHA, which was pretty clearly the class of college hockey this season, as much as Hockey East was last season.

So, there you have it: My Hobey Hat Trick prediction is Blake Geoffrion, Brendan Smith and Marc Cheverie. Last year, my mistake was doubting a Hat Trick from one conference. I’m not making the same mistake again, but am I making a different one now? We’ll know on Wednesday.

Hobey Watch – NCAA Tournament Edition, Day 1

Following Friday’s East Regional semifinal games at the Times Union Center, I have the following statements to make about the race for the 2010 Hobey Baker Award.

- Thanks for playing, Ben Scrivens.

- Welcome to the competition, Bobby Butler.

Going into the weekend, my feelings were that the Hobey Hat Trick would consist of:

1) Wisconsin defenseman Brendan Smith, absent a T.J. Hensick-type situation that would take him out of the running.

2) Either Denver goalie Marc Cheverie OR Cornell goalie Ben Scrivens, pending the outcome of the East Regional.

3) A player to be determined, with a strong possibility (but not a guarantee) that the player would come from an Eastern team.

That feeling has not changed.

Here’s what happened tonight:

First of all, while both Cheverie and Scrivens had their seasons ended in regional semifinal upsets, Cheverie had a very respectable performance, stopping 23 of 25 shots against an RIT team that did give him a legitimate test. Had Denver won today’s game 3-2, Cheverie’s performance wouldn’t be criticized one bit, and it shouldn’t be now, either. The two goals scored on him were off of a bad turnover and a well-executed power play, and it’s hard to fault him on either.

Scrivens, meanwhile…well, let’s put it this way. When asked about Scrivens’ performance tonight (31 saves on 36 shots), the Big Red bench boss began his response by talking about what a great career Scrivens has had. Schafer would go on to say that he doesn’t comment on goalie performances until he’s reviewed tape, but that kind of opening can be taken to mean, “There’s no way I’m throwing this kid under the bus, but he really didn’t play well tonight.” Scrivens didn’t get much help – Cornell turned the puck over way too much – but he really didn’t look very good.

I think that Cheverie’s strength over the course of the season will serve him well – especially now that he’s just .002 behind Scrivens in save percentage – combined with the fact that he’s playing against WCHA opposition in a system not particularly known for enabling great goaltending statistics, as opposed to ECAC Hockey opponents and the notorious Cornell “system.” So, barring anything crazy, I think Cheverie’s in and Scrivens is out.

Now, as for the third spot, Bobby Butler is staking his claim. Two goals today give him sole possession of the NCAA lead with 29, and the hardware he’s already collected – Hockey East Player of the Year, Walter Brown Award – bolsters his resum that much more. If Butler turns in a similar performance tomorrow, that third Hobey Hat Trick spot could easily be his. The only other players I see competing for it are Blake Geoffrion with a monster performance in the West regional, or Gustav Nyquist if UNH and Wisconsin both fall short, as Nyquist’s huge regular season numbers will still stand up.

But who knows? There’s a lot of hockey to be played, and as we’ve seen today, anything can happen.

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